Barber Motorsports Park - Preview

Can anyone end the dominance of Team Penske in Alabama?

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Barber Motorsports Park - Preview
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Only two rounds of the NTT IndyCar season are completed, but Josef Newgarden is already 36 points ahead of defending champion Scott Dixon in the overall standings. The more surprising fact (for many) is that the driver who is closest to Newgarden in points is actually the series' most recent winner, Colton Herta. The recently turned 19 year old is only 18 points away from the top of the standings, in only his first full season in the series!

It just shows how competitive IndyCar racing is in 2019, which may indicate that we could see another new face in victory lane on Sunday.

Since the first race in 2010, at the 2.38 mile road course in picturesque Birmingham, Team Penske have won six out of the nine events. Whether it's been with a Honda or Chevrolet engine, and regardless of the chassis changes, Roger Penske's team seems to have found the magic setup for this challenging 16-turn circuit. It's not the same kind of challenge as the next round in Long Beach, where the primary goal is staying away from the walls. At Barber Motorsport Park, the drivers can really push their cars to the limit and beyond without major consequences. There's lots of runoff areas and multiple lines through some of the flowing corners, which invites the many adventurous overtaking maneuvers we've seen in year's past. I'm thoroughly convinced we'll see even more this year, as many of the drivers have a much better understanding of how they want their car to handle in qualifying and the race.

Last year's race was greatly affected by the weather. So much so, that the race was red flagged on Sunday and resumed on Monday in a timed conclusion. Newgarden took his third win in the past four years at BMP (he also finished third in 2016). Simon Pagenaud, the winner of that 2016 race, would love to get back to the top step of the podium, after a tough start to this season and a winless drought that extends back to the season finale at Sonoma of that year. Will Power may still be licking his wounds, after dominating much of the race at COTA and seeing it all fall away in the team's unfortunate pit stop. The Australian will be looking for a "clean" race weekend in order to get back in touch with the championship leaders.

The forecast for this weekend is looking tricky too, with a 40 - 80% chance of thunderstorms throughout the weekend. The worst of it being on Saturday. Even in the best conditions, it takes an incredible amount of commitment to dive into the downhill braking zones and carry tremendous speed through the sweeping bends. Qualifying up front is always important, but a driver can still use a clever strategy and pure speed to rally from the back of the grid. If the previous round taught us anything, it's that the "rookies" have just as great a chance to succeed as the seasoned veterans. Dismiss them at your peril! Herta and Patricio O'Ward are both previous winners at this track in Indy Lights.

I'm predicting more epic battles like the one between Pagenaud and Graham Rahal for the win in 2016. As impressive as Penske and Newgarden have been out of the gate, they haven't dominated in the purest sense. They've been in the right position at the right time. Let's see who will be in that winning position at the conclusion of what should be a very entertaining race!

If you're playing the official IndyCar Fantasy Challenge, I also have some "driver draft" recommendations:

Josef Newgarden ($34) - the most expensive, but it's pretty easy to understand why.

Simon Pagenaud ($25) - this has got to be his bounce back race.

Colton Herta ($23) - quickly becoming an automatic hire for each fantasy lineup.

Patricio O'Ward ($18) - completed one race for his new team and is already ahead of Chilton in points.

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by AMFirst starts Sunday at 4:00 pm EST on the NBC Sports Network.

(Check your participating IndyCar Media international broadcasting networks for regional times)

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